CENTER COMMUNITY NEWS
Newsletter of the Center for Sacred Sciences
Vol. 31, No. 1 • Winter 2018
Fall Retreat 2017 — Report by M. J. Moffat
First row: Earl Strumpell, Rich Marlatt, Clivonne Corbett, Mary Jane Moffat, David Mason, Allen Lowe. Middle Row: Bev Forster, Robin Bundy, Ellie Parsons, Aileen McNamara, Joel Morwood, Linda Wylie, Mora Dewey, Maura Scanlon, Trudy Naylor. Top Row: Rick Ahrens, Tom Rundle, Fred Chambers, Bob Cowart, Marijke McCandless, Jay McCandless, Kimberly Carson, Vip Short, Darla Heil, Hillery Kyablue, Christin Maks, Laurina Peters, Dagmar Maston, Gene Gibbs, Britt Martin, Betty Vail, Laura Betty.
Thirty-one folks from as far away as San Diego and New York City convened at the beautiful Saint Benedict’s Lodge at McKenzie Bridge for ten sun-drenched days of teachings, silent sitting and walking meditations, nature walks, and naps, supported by yoga (thank you, Kimberly and Clivonne), chi gong (thank you, Bob), and Linda’s amazing organic food, all to the background music of birdsong and the McKenzie River. No wonder one couple describes going to these retreats as going to the Soul Spa.
Joel’s ability to skillfully combine wide-ranging quotes from mystics of all traditions and times with personal stories and down-home humor continues to amaze me. He welcomes any question whether deep or just about meditation details/techniques with equal respect and humor, and all are grist for his blend of certainty about the actual experience of awakening with willingness to admit to “not knowing the answer to that.” And this retreat, "Emotional Alchemy, Transforming Afflicted Emotions," was no exception.
Joel started with the basics — upright posture, yet relaxed; concentration practice (breath or mantra) — assuring us that this leads to the spaciousness that allows us to befriend our emotions, rather than push them away. Just as the sky is large enough to handle storms without being overwhelmed, we can watch our thoughts about our emotions “disappear without a trace” and just experience our emotions directly. If we have the spaciousness and the attention to do this and can let go of the “Story of I,” we can access the wisdom-energy of an emotion rather than the unskillful action that often results from pushing it away. Just like when a crisis happens and we know exactly what to do, because the crisis drives the “Story of I” out the window, we can get that same clarity with any emotion if we can remember to drop the thoughts and let it be, let it pass through us, because emotions, like everything else, are impermanent and will go away by themselves.
Joel provided a handout, with the caveat that these were just more labels, more distinctions that we project onto consciousness. But these distinctions could be useful as another tool for our spiritual toolbox. Then through guided meditations he invited us to call up situations in our lives where we felt the five “afflicted” emotions. Throughout the retreat he gave us many more tools for our spiritual toolbox, which we could use or drop, as we feel the need, since each of us has a unique path. For example, we could ask ourselves, "Where in my body can I feel this emotion the most?" We could welcome small irritations as our gurus, as an opportunity for spiritual practice, as an opportunity to try out this new way of being with our emotions. If we practice the precepts, a safe space is created in which to experience and express our emotions. We can develop a climate of friendliness with our emotions: "You live here, I live here, let’s get to know each other."
Then we returned to The Story of I, which Joel described as the main mechanism of delusion. Our thoughts are the building blocks of the Story of I. The thought “I” exists, it’s a real enough thought; but there is no real “I” behind it. We can never get rid of thoughts — that’s just what the mind does. Even when one is enlightened, thoughts still arise. It’s the thoughts about the thoughts that we can do something about. The Story of I is fueled by desires and aversions and emotions. When the emotions are “afflicted” the Story of I gives us problems.
We confuse desire with grasping. Desire is mmmmm . . . the lovely smell of coffee. Grasping is feeling that I have to have some coffee now to be happy. It’s not that one is wrong. It’s the ability to see the difference between the two. It’s not about giving up anything but about becoming free of having to act on the grasping.
I’ve heard this talk about freedom from Joel before. However, a day or so after this advice I had, for the first time, a direct experience of this freedom. I was walking in the woods and remembering how I always saw deer at Cloud Mountain and hadn’t seen any yet at St. Benedict’s and that I really wanted to see one. I noted the grasping behind the thought, and (I think because of all the days of guided practice in feeling of emotions) I was able to “look” directly at the energy behind the thought and felt a piercingly sweet love of deerness, their beauty and gentleness. Suddenly, it was enough that there were deer in the world and that I had been lucky enough to see some, and I was free of needing to see another deer to be happy! Wow!
Joel reminded us of the delusion that we will be happy-ever-after if we get what we want and avoid what we don’t want. If we are never going to find abiding happiness in worldly things or worldly values, what are we to do? Joel’s answer is to replace the Story of I with the Story of the Spiritual Quest. Contemplate the impermanence of things, use the four principles of Attention, Commitment, Detachment and Surrender — especially Detachment, because it’s not so much a “doing thing” as a ceasing to do. He told a parable of the two workers, who had the same, often frustrating life experiences but how the worker on the spiritual path experienced no suffering, yet the worker on the worldly path to “get ahead” experienced lots.
Finally, keep doing the practice, even if it’s boring, even if it’s painful, keep doing it, that’s why it’s called practice. Fine tune it as you go, like tuning a guitar. Don’t try too hard. Stay with the practice and it will reveal itself in its own good time.
Oh, and did I mention laughter? Well, there was lots of that, too. And the last day — when those who want to share their experience of the retreat — that was often funny, and wise, and touched me deeply. Here’s Ellie’s succinct summation, presented at the end-of-retreat sharing-time:
Permanent no thing
Retreat Experience - Jay McCandless
This 2017 fall retreat (Practicing Emotional Alchemy) was my favorite ever. I had done the five-day retreat six or seven years earlier and had some previous experience based on Osho and knew the process worked. I have two gems I would like to share.
The first has to do with my general dissatisfaction that has to do with a continuous striving or grasping for the future. I’d known it was in operation for many years, but had not seen it clearly. On retreats it would show up as part of me waiting for the retreat to end the moment I walked through the door – just absurd. Each retreat, this process has gotten more painful, and last retreat I had a major opening based on not being able to maintain the split after about five days. On this retreat, I hit the wall on the first day. It was like being seared. So, for the first few days, I just relentlessly watched the desire to leave. Eventually, I saw directly the aversion to now and the grasping at the future, and then the process was only an echo of itself. Somehow, there was more satisfaction in seeing the desire directly than in any imaginary satisfaction in the future.
We were then in the heart of the retreat, and my second gem was how well the process worked and how fundamental these wisdom energies seem to be to reality (the changing part). I did sexual desire for the first, and it quickly resolved into this beautiful energy in my heart that wanted to move up and out — the desire to give of myself completely. I saw anger as a balloon of energy that was clarity and nothing needed to be done. I had a success at work the week before the retreat, and I could hold the energy of pride very easily. It became the most amazing peace, and I dissolved into the unchanging for a long time. Envy was the most challenging and most interesting. It was hard to generate clearly, but after each attempt this funny sensation in my chest built up. By the forth sitting it felt clearly of a sword entering my sternum and exiting my back — the pressure, but not really the pain. I watched the sensation for the entire session, and nothing happened. I stayed after the session and started talking to the sensation. I realized that it was an intense knot of fear, and then I realized the fear was of being rejected in love. Still I perceived it as pain, and it seemed very solid. I then thought to myself: this is supposed to transform into compassion (I had been sitting for a long time and was confused). As soon as I had the thought, I had another thought of all the people who had really been rejected in love and my heart burst open with the most wonderful compassion. Later on, I realized this fear of rejection came from a relationship 37 years ago, and the relationship ended because I could not get over my jealousy!
Retreat Experience - Bev Forster
A Walk with St. Francis — 2017 fall retreat
I’d seen the sign before . . .
This time, I follow the path into the woods.
Suddenly to my surprise, I come upon a statue of St. Francis.
I rest quietly on the bench before him,
Noticing how Mother Nature has carefully placed yellow leaves at his feet,
As if to make an offering . . .
He himself is tenderly holding a small bird . . . with such apparent love and compassion.
My heart flies open, I feel his compassion.
The forest around him seems transformed into a sacred sanctuary.
Tiny needles, yellow golden leaves; and Grace slowly descends.
Deep green moss becomes a brilliant emerald hue,
Sunlight-imbued golden leaves light up the forest.
All for the eyes of the beholder.
I sit quietly in this blissful, visual feast.
Alas . . . as the attention moves, this splendor-filled sanctuary becomes a fading memory,
Impermanent, and evaporating without a trace.
What remains, awareness, ready for the next arising phenomenon.
After days of efforting, and meditations on afflicted emotions,
Confusion, boredom, and bewilderment prevail.
Joel says Bliss is the last veil to go.
Not easy for this one to surrender.
So back to the forest I go.
Have tea with St. Francis to let him know . . .
“I’m done, I quit, I surrender it all”
He shouts back, “You get what you get, darkness and all!”
“Be at home in the darkness” — the friendly refrain — repeats itself over, again and again.
Sky clouds over, sunlight vanishes, forest grows dark, and the smell of decay is abundant.
And I sit with What IS.
Wake up very early 0300,
Emptiness prevails, time for meditation within all the veils.
Remembering moments of finding no self in the space of No Thing
And arising spontaneous emotions where the self still lives.
Oh, Bliss is surrendered. Awareness, please show the way,
In the darkness, an insight points to prayer in the heart,
Deep within a fullness expands.
Love embraces all creation and the God that Thou Art . . . I Am
And again, I sit with What IS.
Thank you, Joel, for your spiritual teachings, years of dedication, and the humor that prevails throughout.
Thank you, Fred, for all the right words at just the right time for so many.
Thank you, Linda, for your hours of preparation and beautiful presentations . . . Yum, Yum, Yum.
(Yum is the Sanskrit seed sound for the Heart Chakra.)
Notes from Distance Studies Graduate Sue Esch
I must be careful, lest this writing about my experience in completing the distance studies course becomes yet another story I go around telling myself in lieu of being present.
So . . . I'll be brief, and just say that I especially enjoy the practice of liberating the afflicted emotions, and seem to always receive benefit in some way whenever I remember to use it. It is like a magic carpet of sorts which always takes me somewhere, or allows me to see something I never expected, never knew about. And there are so many opportunities to use it! Example: Yesterday I was feeling frustrated about wanting to just continue being and doing what I was doing, while having a "should" always bothering me about returning some phone calls. It dawned on me that the discomfort itself was the important part. So I turned my attention upon it and felt it fully, and realized that it is continuous, this struggle between "Be here now" and "should." It is roiling around in my chest right now and feels close to exhausting "me."
So, in summary, life has changed completely since I played and worked my way through the distance studies course; and I just started over again, looking through my notes from when I began the course, amazed at how, now, they trigger even deeper understandings than before!
Gratitude, love and peace to all involved for a very wonderful set of writings, talks, discussions and interactions (especially with my kind and patient mentor, Todd).
Ask Dr. Gnositall
Dear Dr. Gnositall:
A person I work with is driving me up the wall. What can I do?
—Run Down at Work
First of all, stop hallucinating that you are the judge; you don’t have the power to suspend or revoke your coworker’s driver’s license. You can, however, refuse to be a vehicle in which your workmate performs their erratic driving behaviors. Reclaiming your auto-no-me is a good first step on the spiritual roadway.
Dear Dr. Gnositall:
I keep trying to wrap my head around this spiritual stuff, but I fear I’ll never understand it. Any thoughts?
A seminar leader in the ‘70s used to say, “Understanding is the booby prize.” You can either be runner-up, or you can be run over by a truck. In the latter case, just as when you stand beneath a falling piano, there’s nothing left to understand.
Have you listened to the snowflakes fall
on a quiet wintery day?
or watched silent clouds float by
beneath a quiet moon and stars?
Have you noticed in the darkness,
the stillness of the night
as the enormous earth spins silently
beneath a quiet sun?
’Tis silent Life that flows within
and around us we can see
quiet blooming flowers
and silent growing trees
along with gentle quiet rivers
flowing out to silent seas
You cannot hear apples grow
or peaches ripening
Nor can you hear
potatoes, beets and carrots
growing in the ground
You cannot hear a spider,
goldfish, worm or lizard
‘cause they don’t make a sound
Our hair and nails grow silently
as do growing bones
while most cuts and bruises
heal quietly themselves
and our eyes in silent stillness
can emit a quiet love
Life expresses all Her beauty
in a most soundless way
and when we know it’s possible
we can do our part
and be Life’s quiet stillness
within our own head and heart.
—Kaiven Twospirit ~ 2017
The Darkness of Truth
Light of Truth Day Talk by Joel
On Light of Truth Day, 13 August 2017, Joel gave a talk entitled "The Darkness of Truth," which included teachings and a guided meditation on the darkness of the objective mind that can be Recognized as the Light of pure subjective Consciousness. One of the teachings Joel discussed in detail is the following passage from Franklin Merrell-Wolff:
"I had never found it possible completely to silence thought. So it occurred to me that success might be attained simply by a discriminative isolation of the subjective pole of consciousness, with the focus of consciousness placed upon this aspect, but otherwise leaving the mental processes free to continue in their spontaneous functioning—they, however, remaining in the periphery of the attentive consciousness. Further, I realized that pure subjective consciousness without an object must appear to the relative consciousness to have objects. Hence Recognition did not, of itself, imply a new experiential content in consciousness. I saw that genuine Recognition is simply a realization of Nothing, but a Nothing that is absolutely substantial and identical with the SELF. This was the final turn of the Key that opened the Door. I found myself at once identical with the Voidness, Darkness, and Silence, but realized them as utter, though ineffable, Fullness, in the sense of Substantiality, Light, in the sense of Illumination, and Sound, in the sense of pure formless Meaning and Value." (Experience and Philosophy, p.263)
30 Anniversary Reflections
Reflections on the 30th Anniversary of the Center for Sacred Sciences
2017 marked the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Center for Sacred Sciences. To celebrate this milestone, Joel and several other members shared memories of the early years of the Center at the Summer Holiday Party on 12 Aug. 2017. Speakers included Joel, Tom McFarlane, Fred Chambers, Todd Corbett (who also shared some written reflections from Maggie Free), Michael Taylor, Hiromi Sieradski, and Mora Fields. Some of the CSS traditions and teachings were present from the beginning, including Sunday meetings with meditation and teachings followed by tea and conversation, as well as video potlucks once a month. The teachings of the first CSS retreat in August 1987 focused on the Four Principles of the Path: Attention, Commitment, Detachment, and Surrender. Joel emphasized that CSS has grown organically over the years in response to the needs and interests of our community. From the beginning, though, the intention has always been to foster a new sacred worldview compatible with modern science, share the universal teachings of the mystics from all the major religious traditions, and support a community of spiritual practitioners.
Mission and Programs of the Center for Sacred Sciences
The Center for Sacred Sciences is dedicated to the study, practice, and dissemination of the spiritual teachings of the mystics, saints, and sages of the major religious traditions. The Center endeavors to present these teachings in forms appropriate to our contemporary scientific culture. The Center also works to create and disseminate a sacred worldview which expresses the compatibility between universal mystical truths and the evidence of modern science.
Among the Center’s ongoing events are Sunday public services, with meditations and talks given by the Center’s spiritual teachers; monthly Sunday video presentations; and — for committed spiritual seekers — weekly practitioners groups and periodic meditation retreats. The Center is accessible. We are a welcoming and inclusive community.
The Center maintains an extensive lending library of books, audios, videos, and periodicals covering spiritual, psychological, philosophical, and scientific subjects. In addition, the Center provides a website containing a great deal of information and resources related to the teachings of the world’s mystics, the universality of mystical truth, and the relationship between science and mysticism. The Center publishes this newsletter providing community news, upcoming programs, book reviews, and other contributions and resources related to the Center’s mission.
The Center for Sacred Sciences is a non-profit, tax-exempt church based in Eugene, Oregon, USA. We rely chiefly on volunteer staff to support our programs, and on donations to meet our operating expenses. Our spiritual teachers give their teachings freely as a labor of love, and receive no financial compensation from the Center.
About the Center Community News
The Center Community News is published on the CSS website several times a year. Its primary purpose is to help foster a community of spiritual practitioners by sharing original teachings, experiences, reflections, artistic expressions, and reports among members of our community.
To submit your original spiritual reflection, report, poetry or art to the newsletter for publication, please use the newsletter submission form.
To subscribe, unsubscribe, or update your existing subscription to the Center Community News, please use the subscription form.